When the pups were a week old Nate brought the stack of forms into Bo's den after chow. He had to leave the papers on the step with his M4 and his flashlight, out of the pups' reach, and get down on the floor with them to play a while. Bo wasn't willing to keep him from the platoon--not now, not teetering on the edge of invasion--but she still hated him carrying the smell of other wolves into the den whenever he returned. If it were only their platoon it wouldn't be so bad, but walking around wolfless, Nate was jostled and sniffed at by every wolf in camp. Letting the pups crawl all over him until he smelled like milk and puppy shit and family instead of strangers was a small price to pay for his freedom of movement.
An hour later, when the pups were scattered comfortably over Nate's lap and in the little space left between his leg and Bo's belly, Nate turned on a flashlight, got a pen out of his vest, and pulled down the papers.
The brindled bitch pup, the one who looked exactly like a miniature of her mother, sat up from her limp sprawl on Nate's knee to investigate what he held in his hands, pausing only to bully away any of her siblings who tried to join her. Nate let her go for a couple of minutes. The first time she chomped down on one of his knuckles with her milk teeth, he picked her up and dropped her on the far side of Bo.
"So?" Nate said, checking to see if his finger was bleeding, while the bitch pup made little frustrated noises and tried to climb up Bo's back.
Bo gave him the smell, and it was instantly recognizable at the same time that it was a compound of half a dozen different moments; the layered memories were electrifying. Nate had to struggle for a moment to keep still, to remember that he was sitting in the den with Bo and the pups, searching for words. He tried to smell what a human would smell, what this might smell like to a recruit who had never stood on a tarmac with Bo at the moment before stepping off.
Diesel fumes and adrenaline, he wrote, though that couldn't begin to encompass it. Bo had named her daughter--future officer-bitch that she was, born into war--with the scent of the moment they were all waiting for. Oscar Mike.
Oscar Mike made it up onto Bo's shoulder, and Bo turned her head and pulled the pup down to be licked into submission.
Nate turned his attention to the second of the two bitch pups, much smaller and quieter. She had a sleek, short desert coat, almost perfectly one color: not quite black, but a deep, dark seal brown, like a shadow on earth. She was currently curled up at the top of Nate's thigh, resting against his belly and breathing deeply as she slept. Nate could nearly cover her whole body with his left hand; he petted her a little and waited for Bo to tell him her name.
The scent bore a strong relation to Bo's own name, a cool shadowed place in the midst of the hot sand. But the scent of the place wasn't all--there was an animal scent, a warning of danger.
Blacksnake waiting in shadow, Nate wrote, and eyed Bo's quieter daughter with new respect. Bo, at least, thought that the littler bitch was no so much helpless against her bigger, pushier siblings as simply biding her time. "Maybe you're our best bet for recon, hm?"
Blacksnake yawned and squirmed over onto her back, and Nate rubbed her belly and acknowledged that she was winning.
That left the five dog pups. Nate had mostly been thinking of them, so far, as One, Two, Three, Four, and Where Did He Go?, but a quick count showed all five present--the intrepid explorer was currently nursing, obviously getting ready for his next voyage into the far corner of the den. Nate nodded toward him, figuring it was best to get him named before he disappeared again. Bo nudged Three instead, and the sandy-colored pup with his awkward coat, halfway between desert-sleek and northern-thick, woke up and looked around.
Nate got the next blank form and readied his pen, and Bo gave him the scent of the camp, strung tight with anticipation and looking north. Again Nate remembered the smell, the exact moment Bo was giving him the scent of, watching the approaching storm swallow up the northern sky. After a moment's thought, he wrote down Shamal coming.
One was next--he picked up his head and nibbled at Nate's fingers when Nate skritched him--and this smell was also familiar: canvas and sweat and bodies, wolves and men, tense and bored and trapped but all in it together.
Shamal outside the tent.
Two, who was never far from One, butted up into Nate's hand even before Nate was finished writing. Nate played with his ears left-handed while he shuffled to the next blank form, and Bo gave him the corresponding scent: earthy and dark, wolves and a man, cozy and trapped at once. Nate picked the pup up, rubbing his nose against the top of the pup's head, inhaling the actual scent of the pup that echoed in his scent name, and then he settled the pup next to his brother and wrote it down.
Shamal outside the den.
Four was nursing, and Nate set a hand on his rump, ruffling the pale short fur of his desert coat. The smell Bo gave him was strange--both overwhelming and half-present, as if being constantly whipped away by a strong wind. Nate understood it after Bo patiently offered it a few times in a row.
Shamal, Nate wrote.
The last pup finished nursing as Nate was writing and tried to make a break for it. The pups were all still more swimming than walking, but he was quick and determined. Nate grabbed him by the scruff and held the escapee against his chest. He had a thick coat already, with white paws and belly and the rest of his coat almost exactly the color of the dirt the den had been dug in.
Nate looked over at Bo, and she gave him an amused look, slightly mischievous, and then gave him the pup's scent name so strongly that Nate's mouth watered.
He stared at her, and then looked down at the pup who was, yeah, actually just about that exact color, but--
"Seriously?" Nate said. "Born on the brink of a war, and that's what you're calling him?"
Bo tilted her head. That's his name.
And if Nate were going to accept Bo's judgment for Blacksnake, he would have to allow her this one, too. Six out of seven wasn't bad.
He couldn't help sighing as he wrote it down. Peanut butter cookies.
The pup squirmed up and licked his chin, as if to console him, and Nate muttered, "It's not me I'm worried about, Peanut."